Taiwan president tests F-16 simulator at defense technology exhibition

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President Tsai visits defense exhibition (Presidential Office photo)

President Tsai visits defense exhibition (Presidential Office photo)

Taipei, Aug. 15 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Thursday made clear her intention to buy more upgraded F-16 fighter jets from the United States and expressed hope that the U.S. will reach a decision on the sale.

Tsai made the remarks after trying out an F-16 flight simulator at the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE).

Tsai attended the opening ceremony of the 2019 TADTE at the Taipei World Trade Center Exhibition Hall 1 and toured the defense pavilion, where she viewed the indigenous Jian Hsiang anti-radiation drone, the Teng Yun medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone and experienced the F-16 simulator.

"I tried the F-16 simulator a while ago. We need to constantly enhance our air defense capability," she said in an interview after the tour. "Therefore, I hope we can have more F-16 jet fighters."

"I also hope that the U.S. government can make a decision after they complete their internal process," Tsai further said.

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) made a request to the U.S. in the first quarter of the year to purchase a fleet of advanced F-16V fighters, considered 4.5 generation fighter jets that would increase Taiwan's air defense capability amid increasing provocation from the other side of the Taiwan Strait.

However, the progress appears to be stalled, as the Trump administration had yet to inform Congress regarding the proposed arms sale before Congress went into recess July 26, five months after Taiwan made the request. Some news reports said this was due to the possible impact of the deal on U.S.-China relations amid an ongoing trade conflict.

Meanwhile, the MND, through its research and development arm the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), showcased a total of 81 types of military equipment and weapons at the biennial TADTE, to highlight the progress of its independent defense policy.

In her opening remarks, Tsai said the policy, which is aimed at developing Taiwan's ability to produce military planes and ships domestically, employs top researchers and talent and has established a supply chain for the aerospace industry that has more than 100 suppliers to date.

She also announced that the output of Taiwan's aerospace industry had grown from NT$100 billion (US$3.16 billion) to NT$120 billion as of last year, not including orders from foreign buyers.

AIT Director Brent Christensen, who also attended the opening ceremony, praised Taiwan for its progress in developing its own defense capability.

"Over the past 40 years, we have not only observed Taiwan's enthusiasm to pursue necessary platforms to ensure its self-defense, but also its evolving tenacity to develop its own indigenous defense industry. Today's exhibition is a clear example of that," Christensen said.

He commended the investment by Taiwan in the field as witnessed by the annual increase of its defense budget. "And we anticipate that these figures will continue to grow commensurate with the threats Taiwan faces," he said.

Christensen, a former U.S. Air Force officer, reiterated the importance of U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation, as manifested in the forms of arms sales, military exchanges, and collaboration in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

"We are and will remain a true friend of Taiwan, and our commitment to the obligations enshrined in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) is rock solid," Christensen reiterated.

The TRA, which forms the cornerstone of U.S.-Taiwan relations, was signed by then-President Jimmy Carter April 10, 1979, retroactive to Jan. 1 of that year, when the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.